Anti-Gay Clerk Refusing To Do Her Job Concerned "Spouse" May Not Be Limited "To A Human Being"

August 25, 2011 4:31 pm ET — Jamison Foser

The town clerk in Ledyard, NY has offered a reminder that even in a state that has legalized same-sex marriage, there is work to be done to ensure that gay couples aren't discriminated against. Ledyard clerk Rose Marie Belforti is refusing to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples, ostensibly because of her religious beliefs:

Ledyard Town Clerk Rose Marie Belforti submitted a letter to the Ledyard Town Board saying that her religious beliefs prevented her from signing marriage licenses for same-sex couples and the board discussed Belforti's letter at Monday's meeting, according to John Binns, a member of the town board.

When reached for comment Thursday, Belforti said "that's not your business" before hanging up the phone.

Nonsense. Belforti is an elected official who is both discriminating against gay citizens and refusing to do her job. That refusal is very much the "business" of the people she gets paid to serve and who elected her. Belforti's reaction to a phone call from a local reporter seeking an explanation for her approach to public service suggests that she does not understand the nature of her job — though that was already made clear by her refusal to process legitimate paperwork submitted in accordance with New York state law.

Though Belforti refused to discuss her actions with a local reporter, she was willing to do so at length with Citizen Magazine*, a Colorado-based publication of Focus on the Family, a virulently anti-gay outfit whose founder James Dobson infamously claimed the children's cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants was gay propaganda. Belforti had good reason to believe Citizen Magazine would provide a sympathetic forum — Dobson and Focus on the Family were key backers of an early-1990s Colorado constitutional amendment later struck down by the Supreme Court for discriminating against gays. In 2003, Dobson insisted "Homosexuals are not monogamous" and that same-sex marriage "will destroy the earth." In 2007, Dobson endorsed a sermon blaming "lesbian sex" for God's "abandonment" of America.

So that's who Rose Marie Belforti chose to talk to instead of the largest newspaper in the county in which she holds elected office: a magazine based nearly 2,000 miles away, run by an organization that peddles hate and advocates discrimination. But lest you think Belforti doesn't like gay people, she assured Citizen Magazine that isn't the case: "I don't personally have any problem with gay people. I have friends who are gay. This is more a policy issue for me." Of course it is: That's why she took her case to a gay-bashing right-wing organization rather than the local newspaper. Unfortunately, Belforti's "policy" defense of her action is as muddled and ill-considered as her decision to explain herself to a Colorado-based advocacy organization rather than her local newspaper.

The interview begins:

Why did you decide not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?

I am a Christian. God is the final word. He is the Truth, and I believe what the Bible says. When I considered this, God was there with me and I really knew inside, without waver, that this is not right. It is the law now, and I do want to obey the law because God wants me to do that, but personally for me to administer this application to a couple of the same sex would be very difficult. And I don't think it'd do the couple any service to have me as their person, because it really, truly, does grieve the Holy Spirit that resides in my heart, and I don't know if I'd be able to cover that up for them.

So Belforti knows the law says gay couples can marry, and she thinks God wants her to follow the law, but she won't do so because doing so would grieve the Holy Spirit in her heart. That's her idea of a "policy issue." It's worth noting, by the way, that we're merely talking about processing marriage licenses, here. It's just paperwork on Belforti's part — checking to make sure applicants have identification and have filled out the form correctly. But Belforti suggests she should be able to refuse to do her job because it conflicts with her religious beliefs (though, remember, she also claims not wanting to issue licenses to gay couples is a "policy issue" for her):

The law requires employers to accommodate an employee's religious observance or practice unless (doing so would create undue hardship). That means if they can appoint someone else to do something that would be difficult for that person because of his religious beliefs, (they can). It also allows all the clerks' duties in issuing marriage licenses to be delegated to a deputy clerk or other municipal employee.

And she hints that if the town tells her to do her job, she may sue:

What happens if the town ignores your request to delegate the task and says you have to do it anyway?

I think at that point I will have to ask the Alliance Defense Fund to help me. The town should accept it, and if they don't, we'll just have to take that one step at a time.

As I've previously explained, the idea that people should be able to refuse to do their jobs — while continuing to get paid for it — simply because they say doing the job would conflict with their religious beliefs is nonsense. Using precisely the same rationale Belforti employs, a town clerk could refuse to issue marriage licenses to interracial couples or opposite-sex couples. I'm confident that very few people who advocate so-called "conscience clauses" to protect the "religious liberty" of people who want to discriminate against gays would similarly support a town clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to interracial couples, or Catholics, on religious grounds. The whole argument is, therefore, disingenuous — the people making it don't support religious freedom, they support special rights for people who share their beliefs. Those are very different things.

And that's the difference between a "policy issue" and "petulant refusal to do your job." Refusing to process a marriage license for a gay couple because it makes you sad is nothing more than a petulant refusal to do your job. Consistently applying the principle that you claim allows you to refuse to process such a license, and arguing that clerks should be able to refuse to process paperwork for interracial or inter-denominational couples, or couples who support capital punishment, or whatever else they might find immoral ... that's making a policy argument. It's a bad policy argument, but at least it isn't an attempt to dress personal bias up as legal principle.

Next, Belforti offered one of the more creative oppositions to marriage equality I've ever seen:

The new marriage application form says, "Bride/Groom/Spouse" on both sides. You can tell what your sex is, but it's optional.

I see a lot of problems with this form. For instance, I don't know if, when we consider historically that people are going to go back and look at their genealogy and try to find out who their relatives are, when they come upon this form and they see father or parent, mother or parent, they're never going to know if that's their real mother and father or if it's just a neighbor who was raising them or an uncle or an aunt or anybody ... because a parent really can be anyone. We have these names on here and no one will ever know if it's a woman or a man, if it's same-sex or not.

Good luck making sense of that. Belforti seems to be suggesting that if she processes marriage licenses for same-sex couples, people won't know the difference between their mother, their aunt, and their neighbor. At this point, you know where Belforti is going next, don't you? Yes, that's right: bestiality:

I'm worried there's another agenda involved here other than just allowing same-sex couples to be married. We know what a bride is, we know what a groom is-but if we choose to be a "spouse," does that even limit (marriage) to a human being? Do you know what I'm saying?

Yes, it's pretty clear: Belforti doesn't see a difference between a gay man and a farm animal. (But some of her best friends are gay!) She, like so many opponents of marriage equality, is strangely fixated on the idea of a man and a chicken showing up in the town clerk's office, asking for a license to be married. I'm pretty sure that won't happen, but if it does, Belforti won't have to process the paperwork, as the chicken won't have a photo ID. 

Belforti isn't a private citizen expressing personal misgivings about marriage equality. She's an elected official who gets paid to process the town's paperwork in accordance with the laws of the state of New York, and who is refusing to do so. She doesn't have to like the fact that same-sex marriage is legal in New York, any more than she has to like tax policy relating to the assessments she files. But she should have to do her job.

Citizen Magazine should not be confused with the Auburn Citizen, which, coincidentally, is the local newspaper Belforti hung up on.